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Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): Does the Secretary of State put this renewed confidence in the railway industry down to the way in which the private companies have increased their customer numbers?
Actually, I would say that, despite the difficulties encountered by the railways over the past 10 years, it is to the credit of everyone involved that they are now carrying more people than at any time in the past 40 years. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would
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agree that the railways have been through a very difficult time in the past 10 years, involving a traumatic privatisationRailtrack was an absolute disaster in terms of its lack of stewardship of the railways and of its failure to get to grips with costs and allowing them to get out of controland the dysfunctional organisation of the railways, some of which problems we are putting right in the Bill. I made it clear when I announced the review of the railways in January last year that the partnership between the private and public sectors is an important one in relation to the railways, but I am very sure that, without substantial public commitmentnot just in organisational termsand public investment, we could not bring in the corresponding private money, let alone anything else that is needed. I think that we part company with the Tories over this issue. Their idea is that all that they need to do is withdraw public fundingpresumably the railways would have their share of the £1.8 billion of transport cuts that they are planningbut that would almost certainly result in a reduced amount of private money coming in. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman gave me the chance to make that point.
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) (Con) rose
Mr. Darling: If the hon. Gentleman wishes to be as helpful, I shall certainly give way to him.
Mr. Wilshire: I should be delighted to help my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) on this matter. If the Secretary of State chooses to describe privatisation as a disaster, how would he describe the creation of the Strategic Rail Authority? If that was anything other than a disaster, why is he abolishing it?
Mr. Darling: What I said was that the way in which the railways were privatised by the previous Conservative Government was a disaster. It was bad for the railways and hugely disruptive, and the decision to set up the SRA was
Mr. Darling: No, it was an attempt to bring some order to a very disorderly railway system. Under its chairman, Richard Bowker, the SRA made a very good job of sorting out some of the problems that had resulted from the privatisation. I shall come back to the SRA shortly. The hon. Gentleman ought to be aware that the Conservative amendment implicitly calls for the retention of the SRA. He had better have a look at what he is being invited to vote for before he calls it a disaster.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I welcome the development of a publicly owned railway system in this country and the measures that my right hon. Friend is taking to ensure that the railway is publicly accountable and publicly run. Is he prepared to go a little further and say whether the train operating companies and franchises should also be publicly owned and run, where appropriate, on the ground that that can be done very efficiently?
I shall come to the question of franchising later. If I do not say anything about my hon.
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Friend's point, perhaps he will remind me of his question; I shall certainly come back to it. That is one way of guaranteeing an audience for at least another 15 minutes, because he will have to stay put until then. I would say to the hon. Member for Spelthorne that he should not worry; this would not be the first time that hon. Members had been taken aback by the fact that their amendment did not say quite what they thought it did. He should have a good look at the one tabled by the Conservatives.
There has been significant success on the railways, which is a tribute to all who work on them. Moreover, our investment nearly doubles railway investment over five years. Total investment in the four years to 2006 will be almost three times the amount at the time of privatisation. It is important to make that investment to back up the Bill.
Just 10 days ago, when we were discussing the Bill in the context of the Queen's Speech, the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo)the Conservative spokesmanmade the surprising allegation that we had cut spending on transport. I did not intervene at the time, because I was puzzled by his assertion. Let me put the record straight now.
The hon. Gentleman compared the Department's spending according to the 2002 spending review£11.2 billionwith that in the 2004 review, which he saw as £10.4 billion. The reason for the apparent reduction is that about £450 million of planned DFT spending is going into transport, £138 million of which is going into the ScotRail franchise and therefore goes through the Scottish Executive's books. About £300 million funds the Health and Safety Executive and goes through the books of the Department for Work and Pensions, while about £50 million goes directly to local authorities for concessionary fares. I do not want to labour the point, as I appreciate that it is some years since the hon. Gentleman was a Minister and the intricacies of public accounts are sometimes baffling, but I assure him that we have not cut transport spending. Only he and the Conservative party propose to do that.
Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk) (Con): Is it not the case that, even if we include all the figures that have been buried in other Departments' accounts but arewe are now toldavailable for transport spending, the figure for the current year will be substantially below that projected for the current year in 2002?
Those figures are not buried. They are properly accounted for, as is necessary unless we are to hear a row from the Public Accounts Committee. In fact, we are spending about £200 million more than we had planned. The hon. Gentleman should note that, because we are not going to let go of the fact that, between now and the next election, he will have to explain how he will get £1.8 billion out of transport. I shall say more about that later, because it is relevant to the amendment. I did not realise that he had rubbished the David James report on efficiency savings quite so much, but I shall leave him to ponder on that for a few moments.
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Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): I do not know whether it was a Freudian slip, but the Secretary of State said that he hoped to get parts of the dysfunctional structure right. Are there other parts that he is not trying to get right?
Mr. Darling: Even for a Liberal Democrat, that is a pretty poor point. We had already fixed the other parts; now we are finishing the process. The Bill deals with only some of them.
The White Paper sets out six key changes that are necessary for us to build the right structure and which underpin the Bill. First, the Government will take charge of the strategic direction of the railways, because only a Government can do that. Over the years, at various times various governments have sought to distance themselves from the consequences of their spending decisions. I firmly believe that only the democratically elected Government of the day can decide how much to spend on the railways and roughly what their shape and size should be. That responsibility rests fairly and squarely with the Government.
When we looked at the organisation of the railways last year, we concluded that one of the first principles should relate to who is best placed to do what. When it comes to strategic direction, only the Government can decide.
Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East) (Lab): The Railways Act 1993 placed a duty on the Secretary of State to promote use of the railways, which was transferred to the Strategic Rail Authority in 2000. Will that duty be transferred back to the Secretary of State?
Mr. Darling: Is my hon. Friend talking about the duty to promote freight?
Brian White: I was referring to passengers and freight.
Of course, promoting the railways is one of the Government's duties. The 1993 Act explicitly gave the SRA a role, but that is not explicit in this Bill. However, it follows from everything that I have said that, where the Government have a responsibility to decide the size and shape of the network, it is for the Government to be accountable for that. It would be difficult to impose on a Minister a duty to promote the railways. We are different from the SRA in the sense that we are elected. It would be open to another Secretary of State from another party such as the Conservative party to say, "I was elected to do something completely different." One has to live with the electoral consequences of that but, as far as we are concerned, the strategic direction of the railways and the responsibility on funding lie fairly and squarely with the Government and therefore with the Secretary of State. That is the first key point of the White Paper. It is important that people recognise that only the Government can do that, but the Government are in a slightly different position from an organisation that they may set up that has more specific responsibilities. The Government have a more general responsibility. Let us not shrink from that. It is up to the voters which Government they elect. They may want to elect a Government who slash and burn the railways, but I do not think that they want the Conservatives just yet.
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